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First compassion in health conference

Short GP visits, stretched staffing in hospitals, and burnout can undermine health professionals’ ability to practice in the compassionate, caring way that they would like to.

These are among the uncomfortable realities that 300 healthcare professionals and students will explore at Aotearoa New Zealand’s first ever ‘Compassion in Healthcare’ conference this weekend.

Local and overseas experts will speak and run workshops on the science and practice of compassionate care in health at the conference, run by the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Conference organisers Professor Nathan Consedine and Dr Tony Fernando from the School of Medicine say most people who enter healthcare training do so because they care about others, but systemic issues can diminish their ability to be caring day to day.

“There’s a lot of talk about so-called ‘compassion fatigue’ – the idea that health workers run out of compassion, as if it’s a finite resource,” says Dr Fernando, a psychiatrist, sleep specialist and a senior lecturer in Psychological Medicine who is also an ordained Buddhist monk.

“Research by our group and others suggests this is not a useful way to think. Yes, people may get fatigued and even burn out, but that’s to do with the whole person being exhausted, not just their reserves of compassion.”

Says Professor Consedine, a health psychologist in the School of Medicine, “Focusing on compassion fatigue blinds us to the systemic nature of the problem of compassion in health. We concentrate on the health workers themselves – how to select, train, and support them to be more compassionate – when evidence suggests that changing organisational factors may have more of an impact.”

Professor Consedine and Dr Fernando will be speaking at the conference. Professor Consedine specialises in studying how emotions impact physical health and is a self-described ‘sceptic, cynic, and iconoclast’.

Dr Fernando received the 2015 Chair’s award from the New Zealand Medical Association – the highest recognition given by the association - for his work on doctors’ wellbeing, and recently started a weekly mindfulness and emotional balance programme for inmates at Mt Eden Correctional Facility in Auckland.

The other speakers are:

Dr Anne O’Callaghan – a palliative medicine specialist at Auckland Hospital who teaches at the University of Auckland. Through her doctoral study she determined the kind of communication environment in which thriving is possible for patients, whānau and healthcare professionals, and those in which disengagement occurs and suffering is perpetuated.

Dr Robin Youngson – an anaesthetic specialist in New Zealand, internationally renowned for his work on compassion in healthcare, author of the book Time to Care – How to love your patients and your job.

Dr Anna Friis – a health psychologist with a deep personal commitment to the transformative practise of mindful self-compassion.

Patrick Alley – a New Zealand trained general surgeon who has spent most of his professional life at North Shore Hospital in Auckland, and is now the clinical director for a medium sized private hospital in South Auckland.

Bruce Arroll – a professor of General Practice at the University of Auckland who has developed a rapid mental health consulting service in his general practice.

Dr Ingo Lambrecht – a consultant clinical psychologist at Manawanui, Māori Mental Health Service in Auckland.

Dr Johanne Egan – an emergency medicine doctor at Waitemata DHB with clinical education roles within the DHB and at the University of Auckland.

Vinny Dev – a master’s student at the Psychological Medicine Department of the University of Auckland whose areas of research include compassion in healthcare and psychological predictors of chemotherapy side-effects.

The conference, which is fully booked, will be held at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, 85 Park Road, Grafton. Find out more at the conference website.

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